<<

. 9
( 80 .)



>>

brotherhood of men™,150 Gladstone invoked three values which had been
central to the British Protestant imagination since the seventeenth cen-
tury “ namely, the sovereignty of the individual conscience, the sanctity of
life and the equality of human beings. Gladstone presented foreign pol-
itics as the arena for the exercise of ˜non-partisan™ Christian patriotism.
As Bright had done with the abolitionist agitation during the US Civil
War, the GOM seized on the Eastern question™s human dimension and
linked it to the passions, hopes and fears of zealous Nonconformists and
pious High Churchmen and, as we shall see (below, chapter 3, pp. 163“6)
at least some Irish Catholics. Among the Liberal rank and file his rhetoric
was perceived as a powerful vindication of the suffering poor “ not only in
Bulgaria but also at home.151 In its style and effect on the crowds, as well

148
D. W. Bebbington, ˜Gladstone™s Christian liberalism™, Chf Bulletin, (Summer 2005),
11“17.
149
G. Potter, Life of W. E. Gladstone, reprinted in his ˜Gladstone, the friend of the people™,
˜Leaflets for the new electors™ (1885) (Bishopgate Institute).
150
Pottinger Saab, Reluctant icon, 95.
151
˜I am Glad to see you are making such a noble stand in the Cause of the poor Down Cast
Christians in Bulgaria. I rejoice to know that we Have a statesman to whom the working
Classes of England can trust on with the utmost Confidence and Honour Dear Sir in Sir
S NorthCotes Address to the working men of Edinburgh He Had the Boldness to say
that the working man of this Country did not understand the foreign policy of the
present Government But Sir I Am Glad to find that they told Sir S NorthCote that
they understand it Better than the Government. I hope Dear Sir you will still Go on in
your Noble Cause till there is a Sound and a righteous Government for the poor
Disregarded Christians in Servia But Sir I only wish you Could Comply with the request
at BlackHeath to become again leader of the great liberal party in the House of
Commons.™ (William Lake, a Devonshire farm labourer, to Gladstone, 24 Sep. 1876,
Glynne“Gladstone Papers, Hawarden, 702; spelling peculiarities in the original. Cf. the
Secretary of the Amalgamated Labour League (farm labourers, Boston), to Gladstone, 9
Feb. 1878 in Glynne“Gladstone Papers, 714.)
40 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

as in its simple moral certainties, his rhetoric was reminiscent of the
Moody and Sankey evangelistic campaigns of the previous three
years.152 Like the two American revivalists, he enthused large numbers
of religious women and men, some of whom had recently been granted
the vote, and whose perception of the broader world was shaped by the
demanding universalist ethic of the Protestant Bible.
While Gladstone was at best an inconsistent champion of the primacy of
humanitarianism, his speeches during the Bulgarian agitation and 1879
Midlothian campaign extended the scope and meaning of liberalism “
and certainly made it more appealing to all those influenced by the
internationalist and humanitarian ideas then typical of the left. The
protest movement attracted radical intellectuals, artists and journalists
including William Morris, D. G. Rossetti, H. Fawcett, E. A. Freeman and
W. T. Stead. It enthused T. Motterhead, H. Broadhurst, T. Burt and
many other influential labour leaders of the time. While a group of Liberal
and pacifist MPs “ including A. J. Mundella, H. Richard and S. Morley “
established the Eastern Question Association, G. Howell and the other
leaders of the Labour Representation League started to organize popular
support on a large scale.153 Their work also inspired the National Liberal
League, which sought to unite trade unions and London radical clubs and
focused on specific democratic reforms, as well as on Gladstone™s foreign
affairs programme.154
Of course there was no necessary or close correlation between Bulgaria
and Ireland “ notoriously, Joseph Cowen opposed Gladstone over the
Eastern question although he was, already then, a strong supporter of
Irish Home Rule.155 However, in a way, the agitation became a trial run
for the 1886 campaign for Home Rule. When the Nationalist party won
the overwhelming majority of Irish seats at the 1885 election “ the first to
be fought under an extended and near-democratic franchise “ Gladstone
became convinced that Home Rule was a new ˜crisis of public con-
science™. He saw it in the same way as he had viewed the Eastern question
in 1876, an issue ˜transcending mere sectional interests™.156 His overall

152
J. Coffey, ˜Democracy and popular religion: Moody and Sankey™s mission to Britain,
1873“1875 campaign™, in Biagini, Citizenship and community, 93“119.
153
W. H. G. Armytage, A. J. Mundella, 1825“1897: the Liberal background to the labour
movement (1951), 170“3; E. P. Thompson, William Morris romantic to revolutionary
(1988), 202“25.
154
Thompson, William Morris, 260“5.
155
Although he was strongly criticized by some Newcastle radicals for doing so: see Mr
Cowen: apostle or apostate? (1880), pamphlet in the Newcastle Central Library. For
Cowen™s attitudes to the Eastern question see Joseph Cowen™s speeches on the near
Eastern question (1909); for his attitudes to Home Rule see chapter 2, below.
156
Pottinger Saab, Reluctant icon, 196“7.
Home Rule as a ˜crisis of public conscience™ 41

rhetorical strategy was similar to the one he had adopted both in 1876 and
1879 “ he linked Ireland to the broader politics of humanitarianism.
The way such politics developed after 1876 and its links with other
humanitarian campaigns have been comparatively neglected by histori-
ans, although various studies have been devoted to specific pacifist
and anti-imperialist pressure groups.157 But the bigger picture “ includ-
ing not only Ireland, but also the various currents of radicalism within the
British left “ has been consistently neglected. In particular, in their studies
on patriotism and internationalism, D. J. Newton, P. Ward and S. Howe
have completely ignored the Lib-labs (trade union officials sitting as
Liberal MPs), despite the fact that two of them, Randal Cremer and
Arthur Henderson, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1903 and
1934 respectively). And Blaazer™s study on the ˜popular front™ overlooks
the links between Ireland, anti-imperialism, peace, arbitration and
disarmament.158 Ward™s argument that ˜[f]or most British socialists,
internationalism was something desirable, but it was also something
distant™159 does not apply to Ireland. The latter was hardly ˜distant™ in
any meaningful sense of the word “ especially with the Irish National
League of Great Britain campaigning in many constituencies throughout
the country. Yet, Ireland is remarkable for its absence from Ward™s
analysis, and the related question of imperialism “ which inspired so
much of the European debate on democracy, socialism and patriotism
at the time “ receives merely a cursory reference in a footnote.160
Yet it is easy to show that popular radical concern for Irish social and
constitutional demands was culturally deeper and politically more impor-
tant than has hitherto been conceded. From the days of the Chartists the
issue of Irish legislative autonomy was part of the broader question of
democracy in the British Isles. As Dorothy Thompson has pointed out,
the Chartists expected the repeal of the Act of Union to be one outcome

157
E. W. Sager, ˜The working-class peace movement in Victorian England™, Histoire
Sociale“Social History, 12, 23 (1979), 122“44; P. Laity, The British peace movement
1870“1914 (2001); Peatling, British opinion and Irish self-government; M. Matikkala,
˜Anti-imperialism, Englishness and empire in late-Victorian Britain™, Ph.D. thesis,
University of Cambridge, 2006.
158
D. J. Newton, British labour, European socialism and the struggle for peace, 1889“1914
(1989); S. Howe, Anticolonialism in British politics: the left and the end of empire,
1918“1964 (1993); P. Ward, Red flag and Union Jack: Englishness, patriotism and the
British left, 1881“1924 (1998); D. Blaazer, The Popular Front and the progressive tradition:
socialists, liberals and the quest for unity, 1884“1939 (1992).
159
Ward, Red flag, 52, n. 94.
160
R. Gallissot, ˜Nazione e nazionalita nei dibattiti del movimento operaio™, in E. J.
`
Hobsbawm, Storia del marxismo, vol. II: Il marxismo nell™eta della Seconda Internazionale
`
(1979), 787“867; F. Andreucci, ˜La questione coloniale e l™imperialismo™, in ibid.,
868“96.
42 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

of the implementation of the demands contained in their celebrated ˜Six
Points™. Ernest Jones, the last Chartist leader of national repute, regarded
Ireland as a sort of British Poland ˜rightly struggling to be free™ from
English ˜tsarism™.161 The latter was the sobriquet applied to the Dublin
Castle system, whose centralism and police powers were perceived as
utterly ˜un-English™. As early as 1833 “ well before the promulgation of
the Charter “ the first popular demonstration in England against Earl
Grey™s Reform government was directed against its Coercion Act, which
empowered both the Lord Lieutenant to prohibit public meetings and
army officers to court martial offenders in ˜proclaimed™ counties. The
radicals abhorred such measures in principle and feared that a govern-
ment which was ready to use them against Irish peasants and town work-
ers could easily do so against British artisans as well.162 A later generation
reached exactly the same conclusions, which were consistently expressed
from the 1860s onwards by radical and labour leaders like George
Howell, George Odger, A. A. Walton, Tom Burt and Joseph Cowen.163
Well before 1886 such concern had developed into support for Home
Rule. The latter was, by 1900, one of the few areas on which Lib-labs (the
trade-union Liberal MPs), the ILP and the early Labour party all agreed.
As Strauss has pointed out, both in principle and as a matter of expedi-
ency, British democracy could not ignore Irish Nationalism.164
Popular agitations inevitably involve both passion and populism, but
the Home Rule crisis made post-1886 radicalism particularly passionate
and emotional, and its leaders ruthlessly populistic. The 1886 Bill
with the subsequent agitation and electoral campaigns polarized politics
and increased political awareness among subaltern groups “ including
women “ and helped to redefine and enlarge the notion of the public
sphere in which it was ˜appropriate™ for them to be active. Although
Gladstone was certainly shrewd in identifying humanitarianism as one
of the distinctive features of ˜feminine™ liberalism,165 he was wrong to


161
D. Thompson, ˜Ireland™, in D. Thompson and J. Epstein (eds.), The Chartist Experience:
studies in working-class radicalism and culture, 1830“60, (1982) 145; D. Thompson, The
Chartists, 317, 325.
162
Thompson, The Chartists, 19.
163
G. Howell, ˜Worst for the future™, a lecture to the Pimlico branch of the Reform
League, 28 March 1868, in Howell Collection (microfilm edition) IX/HC/LB, 379ff.;
cf. his appeal ˜To the electors of the Borough and Hundreds of Aylesbury™, in ibid.,
744; G. Odger, ˜Address to the electors of Sothward™, The Bee Hive, 8 Jan. 1868, 4;
A. A. Walton, letter to the editor of The Bee Hive, 4 July 1868, 3.
164
E. Strauss, Irish nationalism and British democracy (1951).
165
Cf. J. Jordan, Josephine Butler (2001); J. Alberti, Eleanor Rathbone (London, 1996); and
S. Pedersen, ˜National bodies, unspeakable acts: the sexual politics of colonial policy-
making™, Journal of Modern History, 63 (1991), 647“80.
Home Rule as a ˜crisis of public conscience™ 43

expect that women would be unaffected by either jingoism or Unionism.
Animosity and partisanship under the recently enlarged franchise stimu-
lated the rise of the party machine and caucus politics. The latter had
contrasting effects on popular radicalism “ simultaneously increasing and
limiting effective participation in national politics “ but became an essen-
tial device of mass mobilization. As years went by, the prolonged
Home Rule crisis consolidated new identities, political cultures and party
allegiances. In Ireland politics became less concerned with local issues
and more influenced by a national debate sustained by both the Dublin
and the provincial newspaper press and animated by the campaigns of
Parnell™s Irish National League (INL). As Hoppen has written, ˜constitu-
tional nationalism . . . was at once able and obliged to provide a refuge for
men who would as readily have declared themselves Whigs or Liberals in
earlier days™.166
In Britain, John Vincent has claimed that the protracted agitation
enabled the Liberals to ˜absorb™ Irish Nationalism electorally.167 Even
before Gladstone introduced his first Home Rule Bill in 1886 the Irish
in Britain were grateful to their ˜true friends™ among the British Radical
leaders, including Herbert Gladstone, the Prime Minister™s son, and
Joseph Cowen, in whose honour was named at least one Irish National
League branch.168 During the following years, ˜many Irish men and
women gained prominent positions within Liberal ward and divisional
parties. Many became Liberal in both word and deed, strongly identifying
with the party™s Radical wing.™169 Such trends were evident to contem-
porary observers, who actually thought that the ˜liberal™ side of national-
ism was becoming so dominant that an eventual full merger between the
Irish and British wings of Gladstonianism was a plausible scenario in
1890.170 It was not merely a momentary impression: twenty years later,
in 1910, J. L. Garvin, then editor of the Observer, perceived what he
described as the danger of an Irish“Liberal“Socialist coalition.171
Arguably, what was actually happening was a renewal of the old alliance
between Chartist democracy, free-trade Cobdenites and latter-day
O™Connellism in a popular front of moral outrage. Social radicalism
had been a prominent concern in the 1890s, but from the turn of the

166
Hoppen, Elections, politics and society, 485. 167 Vincent, ˜Gladstone and Ireland™.
168
The Washington branch in County Durham: M. Roddy, on behalf of the INL, to
J. Cowen, 14 Dec. 1885, in Cowen Papers, B343.
169
Fielding, ˜Irish politics in Manchester 271.
170
As one Liberal Unionist observed, ˜[t]here will arise out of the fragments of the present
Opposition, in time, a new party of which the Irish members will form a large portion™.
(Arthur S. Elliott to J. Chamberlain, 12 Dec. 1890, JC 6/6/1B/4.)
171
C. B. Shannon, Arthur J. Balfour and Ireland, 1874“1922 (1988), 149.
44 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

century “ in the days of Taff Vale, militarism and the importation of Asian
workers in South Africa (˜Chinese slavery™) “ radicals of all shades came
together under a post-Gladstonian umbrella. The latter did its job fairly
well until it was shattered by German and Fenian bullets in 1916.

A synopsis
British democracy and Irish nationalism relies on a variety of sources,
including the papers of Lib-lab, Radical, Home Rule and Liberal
Unionist parliamentarians, political autobiographies, party records, mis-
cellaneous items from the John Johnson Collection and the local history
collections of municipal libraries and county record offices, parliamen-
tary debates, and the newspaper press. Most of these sources are exam-
ined in the conventional way: my method does not require any particular
explanation here, apart from what I have already said about my approach
to the study of ˜language™ and ideas. As for the newspaper press, I regard it
as a collection of sources, rather than one source in any simple sense of the
word.172 It includes different literary genres, such as letters from the
public and predominantly descriptive (although often tendentious)
reports of meetings, popular demonstrations and other similar events.
Most newspapers regularly published letters from the public, but after
1887 such correspondence evolved into a special literary genre in the
pages of the Weekly Times and Echo. Over the following few years this well-
established radical newspaper “ which in the 1860s had popularized
J. S. Mill™s ideas and in 1886 had espoused Chamberlain™s Radical
Unionism “ set aside a full page (sometimes more) each week to allow
its readers to discuss political ideas. Correspondents included

<<

. 9
( 80 .)



>>